Monday, March 12, 2012

Saving medicinal plants

Hydrastis canadensis image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

All the warm weather we've had lately has given me a full-blown case of Spring Fever. During the workday, it's hard to keep myself from staring out the window and daydreaming about plans for my garden. And all weekend I poured over catalogs looking at plants and garden ornaments, making lists of those I’d like to add to my perennial and herb beds. 

One of the things I’m keeping in mind this year as I choose plants is something I recently read in Rosemary Gladstar’s “Family Herbal“ book. In this amazing guide to natural therapies and herbal remedies the author discusses the work of United Plant Savers, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation and cultivation of native medicinal plants and their habitats. 

UpS has compiled “at risk” and “to watch” lists of herbs that are endangered; though the author notes that, in some cases, an “at risk” plant could be abundant in one of its native bio-regions and rare in others. I’ve listed the “at risk” herbs below, though the list dates to 2001 when the book was published. There may very well be more plants on the list by now. If you'd like more information, write to United Plant Savers at PO Box 98, East Barre, VT 05649.

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racenose)
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)
Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.)
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
Helonia root (Chamaelirium luteum)
Kava-kava (Piper methysticum)
Lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium spp.)
Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum)
Osha (Ligusticum spp.)
Peyote (Lophophora williamsli)
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra)
Sundew (Drosera spp.)
Trillium (Trillium spp.)
True unicorn (Aletris farinosa)
Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula)
Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria)
Wild yam (Dioscorea spp.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

2012 Witchy Books Reading Challenge

I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. I had my own library card as a pre-schooler and can remember toddling home from the library with a stack of books tucked under my arm on many, many occasions. Harold and the Purple Crayon was one of my favorites back then, along with that funny series of books about the sassy Ramona Quimby.

Nowadays, I read everything from historical fiction to how-to’s, including huge helpings of witchy/pagan titles. So I’ve decided to take up the Witchy Books Reading Challenge, hosted by Pagan Culture. If you have any suggestions for books to add to my list, please let me know. I’ll list each book I finish in the sidebar of my blog. Wish me luck!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pasta with Roasted Peppers, Artichokes and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Hungry and in a hurry? Here’s a quick and satisfying meal that’s easy to put together from pantry staples — things you probably already have on hand. It’s a great dish for when you don’t have a meal planned or a lot of time to prepare one.  The prep time is only 15 minutes, so you can prepare the no-cook sauce while you’re boiling the pasta water, and you’ll be chowing down in no time at all!

  • 1 jar (12 oz.) marinated artichokes, drained well and chopped
  • 1 jar (12 oz.) roasted red peppers, drained well and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp. sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and julienned
  • 3 Tbsp.  brine-cured black olives, pitted and sliced
  • ½ c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 oz. pasta—penne, fusilli, rotini or campanelle would work well

Combine all ingredients except pasta in a small, non-metal bowl. Stir well to blend. Cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain. Toss the hot pasta with the artichoke, red pepper and sundried tomato mixture and serve at once with grated romano cheese.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Aromatherapy blends for diffusers

When it comes to setting a mood in my home, I often turn to scented candles and incense. But lately I’ve been relying quite a bit on my aromatherapy diffuser and realizing just how versatile —and healthy — it can be.   

The diffuser I have is much like the inexpensive one shown here. It uses ultrasonic technology to create a fine, cold mist. Just fill it with water and add some essential oils. The water and oils are quickly diffused throughout the room and linger for quite awhile.  No heat is used, which means the essential oils' therapeutic benefits aren’t compromised.

When I first started using the diffuser, I used already prepared essential oil blends such as those sold by Plant Therapy Essential Oils. My favorite one, which I’ve continued to use throughout the winter, is their Germ Fighter Blend. It contains essential oils of Lemon, Clove, Eucalyptus, Cinnamon, Rosemary and Thyme. I’ve also just started experimenting and creating my own blends.

Here are a few of the mixes that I’ve enjoyed so far. If you have any essential blends that you’d like to share, please be sure to do so. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!

For eliminating unpleasant odors:
- 1 drop eucalyptus oil
- 2 drops lemon oil
- 6 drops bergamot oil 

For lifting the spirits:
- 2 drops geranium oil
- 3 drops sweet orange oil
- 4 drops clary sage oil 

For reducing stress:
- 2 drops patchouli oil
- 3 drops rose oil
- 4 drops lavender oil

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Storing herbs and spices

When was the last time you cleaned out your spice cabinet? If you’re like me, it’s been years. And while I use herbs and spices frequently for both cooking and magick, I’m sure I have a few random jars that have been hanging around too long. I’ll bet that jar of allspice I bought for a Jamaican beef patty recipe many years ago (and only used that one time) is still in there. It’s probably keeping company with the spice blends I purchased at a neighbor’s Taste of Home party because I felt like I needed to buy something.

So I consulted a few recipe books and cooking websites and found some info on the shelf life of herbs, as well as some storage tips. There were lots of varied opinions on shelf life — and I’m sure some herbs deteriorate faster than others — hence the broad date ranges I’ve given here. Most sources seem to agree, however, that the easiest way to check if herbs are still good is to do the ol’ sniff test. Simply rub a pinch of it between your fingers. If the aroma is weak and the color has faded, it’s time to chuck it out.

Shelf Life:
- Whole spices: 2 to 5 years
- Ground spices: 1 to 3 years
- Leafy dried herbs: 6 months to 2 years
- Extracts: 4 years 

Tips for storing dried spices and herbs:
- Keep them dry in tightly closed containers.  A screw-cap container is better than a flip-top container because it can be resealed more tightly. 
- Keep them away from heat. Do not store them near the dishwasher, toaster, or stove.
- Keep them in the dark, inside a cabinet and/or in opaque containers.
- Members of the red pepper family, like paprika and chili powder, stay longer in the fridge.
- When you purchase new spices, make note of the purchase date on the label so you can quickly see when it’s nearing the end of its shelf life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ooey Gooey Mac and Cheese

Last weekend we had about 7 inches of snow here in Northern New Jersey. It was a light, fluffy kind of snow, made all the more wonderful because it fell on a Saturday when we had no place to go. We were able to sit by the fire in our family room and watch out the window as it fell. It was a relaxing, peaceful day and a perfect time for comfort food, so I dug out my mom’s Ooey Gooey Mac & Cheese recipe.

• 1 lb. penne pasta
• 1 Tbsp. olive oil
• 2 Tbsp. butter
• 2 Tbsp. flour
• 2 c. heavy cream
• ¼ tsp. salt
• ¼ tsp. black pepper
• 1 ½ c. shredded mozzarella
• 1 c. shredded white cheddar cheese
• ¾ c. grated romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°. Cook the penne in 4 quarts of salted water till al dente. Drain well, return to pot and toss with olive oil.

Melt butter in a saucepan over med-low heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Slowly whisk in cream, bring to a simmer, and cook till slightly thickened — making sure to whisk frequently. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

Combine cheeses in a large bowl. Fold the cooked pasta into the cheeses and then pour the hot cream mixture over the pasta and cover the bowl immediately with foil. Let it stand for about 3 minutes. Uncover the bowl and stir with rubber spatula, scraping the melted cheese from the sides and bottom of the bowl until everything is combined and all the cheese is melted. Transfer the mixture to a 9” x 13” baking dish. Bake till top is light golden, about 15 minutes, and serve.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Caffè Mocha Exfoliating Scrub

Photo courtesy of Alina Zienowicz, Wikimedia Commons

I love coffee. The sad thing is — it doesn’t love me.  The stomach aches and pains it gives me make it almost impossible for me to enjoy. The fact that I’m unable to drink coffee has seriously been one of my life’s biggest disappointments. So imagine how excited I was to find this completely new way to enjoy it — one that actually makes me feel great. It’s a body scrub made with coffee grounds!

I found the recipe in an old issue of Natural Health magazine and whipped up a batch this morning. It took just a few minutes to prepare and the results were nothing less than divine. The coffee and cocoa powder exfoliate, increase circulation and help decrease the appearance of cellulite (maybe I should bathe in it!). The oils contain antioxidants and help the skin retain moisture perfect for winter-weary skin.


  • 2 Tbsp. almond oil
  • 1 tsp. coffee grounds
  • 1 tsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut oil

Mix ingredients together and apply to clean skin in the shower, rubbing gently in a circular motion. Rinse thoroughly. Note: use of the scrub can leave your shower floor a little slick, so be sure to wipe it out afterwards to avoid any slips or falls.
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